[Updated December 30, 2021]
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, about an hour north of the I-285 perimeter, Helen GA is known for its Alpine architecture, quirky character, impressive array of hiking trails, and annual Oktoberfest festival.
There are lots of great attractions and activities in “Alpine Helen.” But until recently this unabashedly unusual tourist town has not been known for its culinary creativity.
Especially when compared with the foodie scenes in mountain towns like Blue Ridge and Clayton GA or Asheville NC.
The truth is, the Helen food scene has been largely under-the-radar, with the most popular Helen restaurants tending to focus on fairly traditional German fare.
But in our opinion, the best restaurants in Helen GA are those that think a bit outside the typical Bavarian box.
Whether they incorporate Appalachian or international influences, offer fresh-baked goods or a chef-driven menu, each of these great places to eat offers something unique.
But if you’re just looking for the best German restaurants in Helen or restaurants on the river with exceptional views, you’ll find those here as well!
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Best Restaurants in Helen GA Guide
- Bernie’s Restaurant (Fine Dining)
- Betty’s Country Store (Deli)
- Big Daddy’s Restaurant & Tavern (Gastropub)
- Bodensee Restaurant (German)
- Cafe International (International)
- Cimmi’s Courtyard Café (American)
- Cowboys & Angels (Steakhouse)
- The Heidelberg (German)
- Hofbrauhaus Restaurant & Pub (German)
- Hofer’s Bakery & Café (Bakery)
- The Old Sautee Store Market (Deli)
- Paul’s Steakhouse (Steakhouse)
- Spice 55 (Thai & Sushi)
- Sweetwater Coffeehouse (Coffeehouse)
- Yonah Coffee Company (Coffeehouse)
1. Bernie’s Restaurant (Fine Dining)
2220 GA-17 in Sautee Nacoochee • 706-878-3830 • $$$
Located along the Unicoi Wineries Trail in Sautee-Nacoochee, Bernie’s is a fine dining restaurant tucked away in the quaint Nacoochee Valley Guest House.
This is a far cry from most Helen restaurants. There’s no Alpine influence, no German cuisine, no tourist crowds, and no views of tubers floating down the Chattahoochee River.
Instead, you get a refined chef-driven menu served up in an elegant, dare I say romantic setting. There are white linen tablecloths/napkins, china, sterling silver, and cut flowers, plus a patio that offers gorgeous views of the Guest House garden.
Our meal began with appetizers such as Escargot In Creamed Scampi and Crab Cakes with a Dill Aioli, both of which burst with fresh herbal flavors.
For entrées, we went with the Grilled Sirloin with Madeira sauce, Chicken Piccata, and the exquisite Fruits de Mer (shrimp, scallops, and crab sautéed in a scampi butter with sherry, cream, and fresh tomato).
All were delightful, and served with fresh-baked bread and a vegetable of the day.
Bernie’s was easily our favorite of the restaurants in Helen we visited, not to mention one of the best meals we’ve ever had in the North Georgia mountains!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Helen GA
2. Betty’s Country Store (Deli)
18 Yonah St • 706-878-2943 • $
As its name would seem to indicate, Betty’s is not really a restaurant at all. It’s a grocery store located in the heart of Downtown Helen.
It’s our go-to place in the area for picking up items such as F.R.O.G. Jam, Apple Butter, Pepper Jelly, Country Ham, and other traditional Appalachian favorites.
But if you’re looking for a hearty lunch or breakfast in Helen, the biscuits, sandwiches, and side dishes (including fruit salad, potato salad, and slaw) available from their deli are perfect for picking up before you head out to hike to your favorite waterfalls near Helen.
Baked fresh every morning, their biscuits are impressively light and fluffy. They’re available with any combination of bacon, cheese, eggs, ham, sausage, and tomato.
But the lightly spiced country sausage biscuits are the best: We often pick up extras to take home when we visit Helen.
Betty’s is also a fantastic place for lunch in Helen, with an expansive outdoor patio and tasty sandwiches ranging from $3.99 (PB&J) to $7.99 (Reuben).
Check out their daily sandwich specials, which run $5.99 to $6.99 and include a cookie and a pickle.
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3. Bigg Daddy’s Restaurant & Tavern (Gastropub)
807 Edelweiss Strasse • 706-878-2739 • $$
If you’re looking for a lively gastropub with a full bar in Helen, Bigg Daddy’s Restaurant & Tavern (which also has a location in Cornelia GA) is pretty much your only option.
The bad news is that this makes Bigg Daddy’s EXTREMELY popular with locals and visitors alike. There was a 30+ minute wait for a table, even on a Tuesday night, and the wait for food was even longer.
Long story short, if you’re going to have dinner there, go early, go late, or just go with a laid-back attitude in case you have to wait. But once our food arrived, it was admittedly pretty great.
The Appalachian Smoked Trout Dip with Greek flatbread was perfectly seasoned with fresh dill and horseradish. The Wedgeless Salad didn’t skimp on the bacon or blue cheese crumbles.
My daughter loved their wings, which come in jumbo or boneless options and your choice of 24 different sauces.
But the #1 draw at Bigg Daddy’s is their big ol’ burgers, which are made with 12 oz of Braveheart Black Angus Beef and come with waffle fries.
Try the Sweet Melissa with bacon and pimento cheese, or the Mesquite-seasoned Rocky Top with smoked gouda, smoked bacon, onion rings, and spicy BBQ sauce.
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4. Bodensee Restaurant (German)
64 Munich Strasse • 706-878-1026 • $$
This authentic German restaurant in Helen was launched by Romanian Chef Aurel Prodan and his wife, Doina, who spent decades in the Bavarian restaurant industry before moving to North Georgia.
Bodensee Restaurant is named after a beautiful lake on the Rhine River, at the northern foot of the Alps. Ironically, it’s one of the few restaurants in Downtown Helen that does not offer riverside dining.
But one of the things we loved most about it was that the restaurant was located off the town’s main drag, with a quiet, shaded patio that stayed cool even on a hot summer day.
The Bodensee menu is largely devoted to Old World German fare, including starters such as Goulash Soup, massive Potato Pancakes (served with sour cream and applesauce), and Jumbo Pretzels.
For entrees, we recommend platters. The House Platter includes two kinds of sausage, a smoked pork chop, sauerkraut and potato salad.
The Wurst Sampler Platter features 3 kinds of wurst, while the Sampler Platter for Two features brats, beef roll, pork chop, garlic sausage, spaetzle, and more!
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5. Cafe International (International)
8546 S Main St • 706-878-3102 • $$
When it comes to choosing the best places to eat in Helen GA, location is just as much of a consideration as culinary quality.
Thankfully Cafe International, which features a shaded patio that overlooks the Chattahoochee River right in the heart of town, offers both.
If you’re looking for international food in Helen, their expansive menu offers lots of diversity, from German and Italian fare to Hummus, Scandinavian Shrimp & Crab Salad, and Mexican Hot Cocoa.
But our favorites were their House Special sandwiches, the “Best in Town!” Reuben and the Camel Rider, which features ham, pastrami, and Swiss cheese on grilled pita bread with lettuce, tomato, and a sweet and sour herb dressing.
A word to the wise: Even at lunchtime on a weekday in summer, this place is BUSY. So you may want to go at off times, or be prepared for a 30-minute wait.
Fortunately they offered live music, a beer stand, corn hole, and a great view of river tubing on the Chattahoochee to keep us occupied.
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6. Cimmi’s Courtyard Café (American)
8797 N Main St • 706-878-6037 • $
Cinnamon Spurlock’s charming Downtown Helen restaurant has become extremely popular in recent years, and not just because it was featured in the 2019 Lifetime Christmas movie, Christmas Love Letter.
Cimmi’s Courtyard Café also offers one of the best breakfasts in town, including the delightfully fluffy homemade buttermilk biscuits that made her famous.
You can order breakfast all day here, including popular dishes such as humongous Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes, Build-Your-Own Omelettes, Ham (hickory smoked or country style), French Toast, and Nora Mill grits.
We especially love visiting Cimmi’s cozy café during Christmas in Helen. The restaurant’s holiday spirit is infectious, with walls stacked with Santas, Xmas trees, reindeer, snowmen, gingerbread houses, and more.
But the warm, welcoming staff and charming country cabin decor make the restaurant an excellent place to start your day at any time of year.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Christmas Towns in Georgia to Visit
7. Cowboys & Angels (Steakhouse)
60 Chattahoochee Strasse • 706-878-3433 • $$$
Tucked back in the Riverwalk Village shopping center, Cowboys & Angels feels somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of Helen’s main drag. And yes, that’s a good thing!
Billing itself as “Helen’s Finest Steakhouse,” with the tagline “A Taste of Southern Class,” it’s clear the restaurant aspires to be a cut above its competition.
But the upscale atmosphere doesn’t mean you have to pay a fortune for a good meal.
They have nearly 15 burgers and sandwiches in the $10-$15 range, and Southern Specialties such as Catfish & Chips and Buttermilk Fried Chicken that come with two sides for under $20.
Still, if you’re looking for hand-cut, wet-aged, USDA Choice steaks in Helen, this is your place.
From Walker’s Filet Mignon and the ever-popular Boneless Ribeye to Elk Chops (with a sensational coffee rub!) and Surf ‘n’ Turf, this place is a carnivore’s dream come true.
They also offer live music, an outdoor patio, and a full bar serving up beer and craft cocktails, making it one of the best restaurants in Helen GA to grab a drink with your meal.
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8. Hofbrauhaus Restaurant & Pub (German)
9001 N Main St • 706-878-2248 • $$
When it comes to the best German food in Helen GA, the Hofbrauhaus Restaurant & Pub was one of our favorites (despite the fact that there was patio construction going on the day we visited).
Not only was this restaurant recommended by the owners of the Roundhouse Rental Cabin (where we stayed), but Mary had it on our “must-see” list after learning that they fly in fresh-baked Jumbo Pretzels from Munich every week!
Inspired by the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, the interior is designed to look like an American GI pub in Germany, with lots of wood, Bavarian-style beers, and servers dressed in dirndls and lederhosen.
We sat on the dog-friendly patio, which overlooks the river.
Their food is also largely authentic German fare, with a few American dishes (including Sautéed Butterflied Trout, Certified Angus Steaks, and burgers) thrown in for good measure.
Try the Champignon Schnitzel (breaded pork loin cutlet topped with domestic and forest mushrooms), the Wurst Platter, or the Schlachthaus Platte Fur Zwei (a Butcher Shop Platter For Two, with two smoked pork chops and 4 different kinds of wurst).
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9. The Heidelberg (German)
8660 N Main St • 706-878-0061 • $$
Formerly known as Old Heidelberg, this 3-level traditional German restaurant is one of the most iconic buildings on the downtown Helen square.
With its blue-and-white castle-like exterior, it’s the tallest building on the square, right in the heart of Alpine Helen’s hustle and bustle. As a result, there’s often a line of people waiting to get in.
The Heidelberg‘s roots date back to 1977, when original owners Harold and Terry Link (who were both born in Heidelberg, Germany) built the first authentic German restaurant in Helen.
By the late ’80s they’d expanded it to include a dedicated pub, a second dining room, and a large outdoor terrace (which is now enclosed and known as the Bierhimmel Music Hall).
Under the current ownership since 2013, the restaurant continues to focus on traditional German fare, from Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) and Riesenbrezel (giant pretzels) to every type of wurst and schnitzel you could possibly want.
They do offer a “Heidelburger” for those seeking American fare, and hot dogs, chicken fingers, and such on their kids menu. But save room for some Apple Strudel or Black Forest Cake for dessert!
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10. Hofer’s Bakery & Café
8758 N Main St • 706-878-8200 • $$
One of the most popular bakeries in North Georgia, Hofer’s Bakery was the brainchild of Horst & Gerda Hofer, who came to the USA from Schwabach, Germany in the late 1950s.
Their first bakery opened in Atlanta in 1973, and they launched their award-winning Alpine Helen location 18 years later. The former bank building was remodeled after an old world Bavarian Konditorei & Cafe, with servers in customary Bavarian outfits.
Today the Hofers’ German bakery is owned and operated by their son Ralph, who still uses a mixture of modern European equipment, a traditional stone hearth oven, and recipes that have been passed down for generations.
In our opinion, they offer the best traditional German breakfast in Helen. Specialities include Apfelküchle (apples dipped in batter, pan fried, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar), Kassler Rippchen (smoked pork chop), and Hofer’s Biscuits & German Gravy (with creamy Nuremberg bratwurst gravy).
They also offer an expansive array of German sandwiches and entrees at lunchtime, as well as the area’s best fresh-baked cakes, pies, and pastries.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Rental Cabins in Helen GA
11. The Old Sautee Store Market (Deli)
2315 GA-17 in Sautee Nacoochee • 706-878-2281 • $
Established way back in 1872, the Old Sautee Store in Sautee Nacoochee is a refreshingly unique Helen attraction.
When you first walk in, it’s a 19th-century general store with displays of historic goods, signs, memorabilia, and coin-operated machines. As you move to the back, there’s an upscale clothing boutique and gift shop, plus old-timey candies, sodas, and more.
But to understand why it’s on a list of the best Helen food, you’ll need to head to the tiny Old Sautee Market next door.
There you’ll find a deli offering a wide variety of fresh baked goods and hand-crafted sandwiches, plus gourmet coffee, ice cream, and more.
There are only a few booths inside, and a hand full of umbrella-shaded tables on the patio. But for our money this tiny deli offers the best budget-friendly lunch in Helen.
Their sandwiches are both fantastic and affordable ($6-$7), including popular favorites like the Hickory-Smoked BLT, Club, and Grilled Cheese w/Bacon & Tomato.
But we highly recommend the Panini of the Day, which is almost always a delectable treat.
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12. Paul’s Steakhouse
8537 S Main St • 706-878-2468 • $$$
Paul’s Steakhouse is the oldest restaurant in Helen GA. It was built along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in 1965, four years before the mountain town began mandating that all buildings must adopt the south-German Alpine style.
So it’s the rare building you’ll find in town that doesn’t reflect any Bavarian influence, and the restaurant’s menu is decidedly American.
It’s classic, low-key steakhouse, with huge portions at relatively affordable prices. Steaks and seafood are obviously the main focus here (try the Surf & Turf, Filet Mignon, or Broiled Rainbow Trout), but they also have an array of soups, salads, chicken dishes, and baby back ribs.
Paul’s new outdoor Margarita Deck and indoor bar are often hopping on weekends, with big screen TVs and special events (including a New Year’s Eve party) on the former and live music every Friday and Saturday in the latter.
It’s also worth noting that Paul’s offers the best views of all the Helen restaurants we’ve visited, with many tables providing an excellent overlook of the river below.
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13. Spice 55 (Thai & Sushi)
705 Brucken Strasse • 706-878-1010 • $$
As great as many of the German restaurants in Helen may be, there’s only so much traditional Bavarian food you can eat before you start to feel as bloated as Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
So discovering Spice 55– an upscale Thai and sushi restaurant tucked several blocks away from Helen’s main drag in the Bergland Mall shopping center– was a welcome and refreshing change of pace.
It couldn’t be more different from the other Helen restaurants included on this list: It’s quiet, intimate, and romantic, with deep red hues offset by black and golden yellow.
The extensive menu offers an array of sushi and traditional Thai dishes, including personal favorites like Tom Kha Soup (chicken and coconut), Pad Thai, Pad Kee Mao (spicy Thai basil noodles), Basil Fried Rice, and Masaman Curry.
But after eating four filling German meals in a row, we were most excited to try their Japanese dishes, including Aki Poke, Tuna Tataki, Seaweed Salad, and more than two dozen different traditional and signature sushi rolls.
It ultimately ranked right alongside Bernie’s Restaurant among our favorite places to eat in Helen!
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14. Sweetwater Coffeehouse (Coffeehouse)
2242 GA-17 in Sautee Nacoochee • 706-878-1521 • $
Located right next to Bernie’s and the Nacoochee Valley Guest House, the Sweetwater Coffeehouse is a great place for breakfast in Helen for those who love gourmet organic coffee and tea.
Founded by Eric and Anna Anderson in 1994, the charming coffeehouse was recently purchased by Ben and Betsy Dockins.
The married potters have carried on the restaurant’s 27-year legacy while also expanding its collection of handmade mugs, plates, and other artful items.
Sweetwater has all the classic coffees you’d find at any upscale shop (Cappuccinos, Espressos, etc).
But they also offer unique blends like the Honeycomb Latte (with honey & lavender), Dirty Chai Latte (espresso, cinnamon & honey), and Dr Seuss (mocha latte, raw sugar, cinnamon & whipped cream).
As for food, they also offer a variety of bagels (with cream cheese, jam, peanut butter, or chicken salad), a Veggie or Bacon Quiche, and an array of fresh-baked goods to tempt your sweet tooth.
It’s a great, relatively quiet place to spend a morning far removed from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Helen.
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15. Yonah Coffee Company (Coffeehouse)
8650 N Main St • 706-878-7211 • $
There’s no Starbucks in Helen: For that, you’d need to drive 9 miles to the neighboring town of Cleveland. But the Yonah Coffee Company, which is located smack dab in the center of downtown, is the next best thing.
It’s also a great place if you need to pick up a quick breakfast in Helen before heading out to tackle some of the local hiking trails. There’s actually something magical about walking around this weird little Alpine village in the morning, before throngs of visitors arrive.
We loved sipping on Signature Lattes such as the Sleepy Bear (with dark chocolate, vanilla & honey) and the Crackerjack (caramel & hazelnut) while roaming the completely empty streets.
The food selections you’ll find here aren’t nearly as numerous as their café location in Demorest (just north of Alto’s Schoolbus Graveyard).
But they do offer hearty breakfast sandwiches with bacon or sausage, egg, and cheese on your choice of biscuit, croissant, or English Muffin.
There are also 3 different kinds of toasted bagels as well as a variety of tasty pastries, including fresh-baked muffins. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett